KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just when you think the NCAA Tournament has provided all the drama, all the story lines and all the crazy situations possible in a 40-minute game, something like this happens:
One team makes 14 of its 22 shots to build a 19-point lead on the way to 58 percent first-half accuracy. It then goes the final 7:56 without making a field goal and misses 15 of 18 shots in the second 20 minutes.
The other team makes 12 of its 17 shots to start the second half and appears to have most of 19,000 screaming fans urging its comeback. That team then misses 12 of its final 13 shots.
In this "blind sample" you would have trouble discerning the winning team. If you have Internet access, no doubt you have a pretty good idea that No. 13 seed LaSalle stunned No. 4 seed Kansas State 63-61 Friday in the second round of the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats (27-8) struggled in the first half and soared in the second half (until the final four minutes). The Explorers (23-9) shot as poorly in the second half as they sizzled in the first half.
"Down the stretch, the crowd (19,301) got into it," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "LaSalle kept their poise and made enough plays down the stretch. They made the plays down the stretch and we didn't."
A spot on and stark assessment. The Wildcats missed 12 of their last 13 shots to cancel out their nearly perfect 12 of 15 to start the second half. K-State also went 6-of-13 from the free throw line. Angel Rodriguez, an 83 percent shooter from the line, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 5:50 remaining and the score tied.
"We didn't have any energy to start the game," said Kansas State's Rodney McGruder, who finished 5-of-17 from the field. "Shots we normally make, we came up short. We dug ourselves a hole."
LaSalle survived because center Jerrell Wright made his last six free throws to go along with 6-for-6 shooting for a game-high 21. His free throws with 9.6 remaining provided the winning points.
Kansas State's final possession produced an ineffective, no-chance force by Rodriguez from the right baseline. LaSalle was intent to keep the ball out of McGruder's hands. As the clock ticked toward zeroes, Weber tried to call a timeout.
"All season long in those situations, we've just let the guys play," Weber said. "Once I saw it was bogged down, I tried to call a timeout. I know it's tough for the officials. I called it with 2.2
left and yelled as loud as I could. We didn't get the call. Sometimes things aren't mean to be."
LaSalle shot a season-high 63 percent in winning its first-round game Wednesday. The accuracy made the trip from Dayton to Kansas City. The Explorers' first three baskets were 3-pointers by three different players. The tone was set.
"After watching LaSalle the other night we all figured we had a heckuva game on our hands," Weber said. "I hope our guys understood how good they are. We tried to emphasize that. I wish everybody had played better in the first half. I don't know how many layups we missed."
Unofficially, K-State missed seven point-blank shots in the first 20 minutes as the Wildcats shot 37.9 percent. Not a bad percentage, but certainly not enough to offset LaSalle making 18-of-31 from the field and 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
A snapshot of the first half: LaSalle scored on a run-out layup for a 21-9 lead and Weber called timeout at 11:49. The Wildcats then ran a set play for McGruder who failed to complete the lob pass for a dunk. The next Explorers' possession resulted in a 3-pointer when K-State knocked the ball free but it was recovered by Tyrone Garland who passed to D.J. Peterson for the shot.
Kansas State trailed 44-26 at halftime. Weber asked for emotion in the second half. Senior Jordan Henriquez responded. He scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half and finished with 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
The Wildcats cut 16 points from the 18-point deficit in the first 10 minutes of the second half. That turned the final 10 minutes into a battle of wills.
"Every timeout, every time we came in, (coach John Gianinni) was riding us on defense," said LaSalle's Ramon Galloway, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half. "We had a good margin, and they came back and actually took the lead. We had to stick together, dig down deep and get some stops."
McGruder, Henriquez and Martavious Irving ended their careers as the senior class with the most victories (101) in school history. In Weber's first season as coach, the Wildcats won their first league title since 1977.
"I'm sad for our guys and disappointed it has to end," Weber said.
"It's the worst feeling in the world," McGruder said. "It's the last time I'll play a game in a K-State uniform, the last time I'll play with these guys. It just hurts to go out the way we did."